The Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Industrial Policy (DASD(IndPol)), Mr. Jesse Salazar, and Ms. Adele Ratcliff, Director of the Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment (IBAS) Program, visited with senior representatives of the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee on August 9, 2021. This executive-level on-site engagement focused on exploring opportunities for greater long-term return on investment by advancing DoD goals in key areas including hypersonics, additive manufacturing (to address castings and forgings issues for critical systems), advanced and digital manufacturing technologies and training, and democratizing manufacturing.
In June 2021, ORNL was awarded $20.3 million in follow-on funds to continue machine tools technology development and advancement for America’s Cutting Edge (ACE), an initiative led by DoD. Funded by IndPol’s IBAS Program in March 2020 as a three-year initiative, ACE aims to revitalize the U.S. machine tool sector through transformative thinking, technology, and training. DASD Salazar’s and Ms. Ratcliff’s visit comes as ORNL is completing its summer session of eight in-person ACE Bootcamps and this gave them a unique opportunity to see the training live.
Machining Workforce Training Bootcamps
In addition to its machine tool technology efforts, ACE has partnered with the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI), and Dr. Tony Schmitz - a University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UT) Professor of Mechanical Engineering and ORNL Joint Faculty Member - to develop and deliver machining workforce training through the in-person bootcamps and on-line computer numerical controlled CNC machining training.
Dr. Schmitz and UT PhD students Emma Betters, Aaron Cornelius, and Jake Dvorak were key to the process of creating a curriculum suitable for a wide range of the 67 in-person participants and 1,543 on-line CNC course registrants, each who possess varying backgrounds and levels of experience.
Recent ACE Bootcamp alumnus, Mr. Benjamin Meredith told program leaders, “I once again must thank you all for putting together what I think is an unmatched, machining development program. I was able to bring several critical machining habits back to work, and I’ve already started working with machinists on the shop floor to develop setup sheets and examine additional tooling… I thought the course flowed very smoothly, and tying together ME principles with real-world manufacturing over the course of a week was very exciting.”
Another Bootcamp graduate, six-year Air Force vet Casey Meyering said, “ACE is enabling me to take innovative ideas I have and bring them to life for use in my nuclear security research. Outsourcing is a huge economic vulnerability… It is incredibly important that the American people get on board with revitalizing manufacturing and machining and taking back that capability from overseas … because we ultimately need it.” Finally, six-year Air Force vet Cody Beiver noted, ““Working on modern CNC machines…ACE is showing me firsthand what we can do in the U.S. when it comes to manufacturing and machining at a higher quality and higher production rate. We will be able to mitigate a lot of issues that are seen DoD and military wide.”
In its first year, the ACE team has developed several key technologies that will help fortify DoD’s machine tool capabilities. According to Ms. Ratcliff, “ACE has done amazing work since its standup in March 2020. They developed the ‘tap test’ kit and training course, and partnered with MSC. Inc. - the nation’s largest machine tool sales and service supplier - to provide tap test service to save U.S. machine shops thousands of hours and millions of dollars per year.” ACE followed the tap test with the Harmonizer, a cell phone-based app that uses sound to detect and help operators correct chatter on machine tools using narrow cutting tools. They have also been developing ‘rules of the road’ for hybrid manufacturing and have built an innovative, concrete-base, ‘pass-through’ system that can machine large parts like wing spars at much lower cost than current methods. This ‘ACE Moonshot’ effort is generating great interest from U.S. machine tool builders, and can reduce our dependence on cast machine tool components available only from foreign sources. Early in the COVID outbreak ACE quickly created new tooling that is helping U.S. manufacturers produce millions of sets of PPE per day.
IACMI Workforce & Community Development Manager Mr. Tyler Blevins supports the organizational and administrative aspects of the bootcamps - including selecting participants and interacting with them both before and after each session, and analyzing exit survey data. IACMI Workforce Director Ms. Joannie Harmon provides supervisory support to Tyler and to the entire ACE program. Of the ACE team, DASD Salazar stated, “The technical prowess, total commitment and enthusiasm of professionals at all levels and across administrative, instructional, and managerial disciplines truly sets this effort apart from other skills training activities. The ACE-IACMI team has set a high standard for other manufacturing development efforts.”
Looking to the Future
In addition to receiving program briefings and interacting with ACE Bootcamp staff and participants, DASD Salazar and Ms. Ratcliff heard from the leaders of ORNL cybersecurity, energy generation, and storage efforts and toured the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility and Carbon Fiber Technology Facility, where they discussed recent ORNL innovations in the production of carbon/carbon products and other materials of critical interest to current and emerging DoD programs.
This visit to ORNL will serve as a catalyst for a series of site visits in Fiscal Year 2022 that brings the Department’s Office of Industrial Policy to locations across the U.S. where IBAS investments are elevating U.S. manufacturing to world-leading status and promoting the prestige of manufacturing and industrial careers.
For more information on the IBAS Program, please visit: https://www.businessdefense.gov/IBAS/Overview